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Committee on Responsibilities, Rights, and Welfare of
Teaching Assistants and Assistant Instructors

In the fall semester, the committee reviewed and endorsed the changes being made in the training of international teaching assistants (TAs), with diminished emphasis on courses taught through the Office of Graduate Studies and more emphasis placed on courses taught under the aegis of the International Office. The committee investigated whether there had been a drop-off in numbers of TAs and assistant instructors (AIs) from fall 2002 to fall 2003 due to budgetary cutbacks at the University and found that there had been a drop-off, but no more than would be explainable by the fact that the undergraduate population dropped off from fall 2002 to fall 2003. The committee then took up the issue of medical benefits for teaching assistants and assistant instructors. These benefits seemed in peril because of decisions by the 78th Legislature to pay only half the benefits for half-time state employees. The committee collected information on the possible consequences of a cut in benefits for TAs and AIs and apprised the relevant members of the ad hoc committee that was making recommendations. It was gratifying that in the end the University decided to continue the current TA/AI medical benefits without change, shouldering the burden of the additional cost.

In the spring semester, the committee prepared and reviewed materials on the average compensation rates for TAs and AIs and forwarded them to the provost for review. Taking TAs and AIs together, the average gap between net salaries and expenses over the academic year has been narrowing over the past three years and is now approximately $1,000. We took up the question of the taxability of the TA/AI tuition benefit for the second time. We have heard both from students who encourage us to pursue relief from this tax and from students who want the tax kept in place. We have asked the Graduate Student Assembly to reach a stance on this matter and communicate it to us, so that we will have a reliable indicator of the views of graduate students on this matter. In discussion the committee thought it would be good to study the course of a TA’s or AI’s progress during her or his career here, including how TAs/AIs are chosen, how they are trained, how they are oriented and then managed by the faculty member to whom they report (if any), how they are evaluated, and how the re-appointment process works. It appears that in this connection it may be valuable to begin with a survey of graduate coordinators and/or advisers. The eventual goal would be to circulate a list of best practices to the various departments to help support their management of their TA/AI programs. The committee intends to take this idea as a starting point for its deliberations next year.

The committee discussed another issue toward the end of the academic year. This was the idea of expanding the role of the committee to include oversight of the situation of graduate research assistants (GRAs) on campus. Many of the concerns that pertain to TAs and AIs are relevant to GRAs as well, and the situation of GRAs has often figured in our discussions of TA/AI issues. In our final meeting the committee unanimously agreed to undertake oversight of GRAs if the Faculty Council saw fit to assign the committee this responsibility.

John Dollard, chair